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Which USL Championship club has the best chance to reach the Open Cup Final?

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 05/10/24, 3:10PM EDT


Nine teams still standing in the Round of 16, here’s our ranking of each’s chances and why

Detroit City FC, New Mexico United, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Phoenix Rising FC are among nine USL Championship clubs still alive in their quest to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

To start, let’s say this – for a USL Championship club to reach the Final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, it will always take a monumental combination of quality, focus and good luck, either in the games themselves or in getting the advantage of a home draw.

At the same time, we’re two months into this season, we have a good impression of where each of the nine Championship teams that are still standing in the historic event are as teams, and we know their matchups for the Round of 16 in two weeks.

So, with that in mind, which club might have the best chance to emulate Sacramento Republic FC’s run two seasons ago, and maybe even win it all?

Here’s how it looks right now.

1. Detroit City FC

The atmosphere around Detroit City has meant Open Cup nights are always special, especially at Keyworth Stadium. The start Le Rouge have made to the new season, though, is by far their best since joining the USL Championship. Detroit has shown resilience in the league – it’s already rallied to take two league wins this season, let alone what we saw in knocking off defending Open Cup title holder Houston Dynamo FC in the Round of 32.

Don’t underestimate the dismissive postgame words of Dynamo Head Coach Ben Olsen, either. That could give DCFC a little extra juice – as if they and their fans needed it – to show everyone what they’re bringing to the table.

2. New Mexico United

There’s cross-country travel involved, but New Mexico United’s convincing win at home to defeat Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night set up a tilt with MLS NEXT Pro’s New York City FC II that United should be favored to win. If it navigates that contest to return to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2019, there could be a difficult road ahead. That said, Head Coach Eric Quill’s side has taken on a more consistent look overall this season than in the club’s first five seasons, and if United gets a home draw before its raucous fans it could get very interesting.

3. Sacramento Republic FC

It doesn’t feel like Sacramento has hit its highest gears yet this season, and it’s still to lose a game or even trail in one entering this weekend. Beyond the obvious of the retained talent that made the Final two years ago and the experience that provides, Republic FC will also have a weekend off to prepare for the San Jose Earthquakes going into the Round of 16 – the same round and contest where Sacramento’s charge began in earnest two years ago. If the side wins that game before a packed house at Heart Health Park, the dream of a second shot at the Cup will get very big, very fast.

4. Indy Eleven

There’s a lot to like about Indy Eleven’s chances. First, while they lost previously to Detroit City FC this season at home, they held a lead in that contest at halftime and have become a better side since then. They’re also a side that has found a way to score in every game it has played this campaign – only Louisville City FC and Sacramento Republic FC can say the same in the Championship – and there’s experience here both in the squad and on the bench. Hosting Detroit will be its own test, but if Indy gets through at home there’s potential for more.

5. Charleston Battery

The Battery’s rise since the start of last season – restoring one of America’s two longest-standing professional clubs to its former glory – has been inarguably one of the best stories in American soccer. They’re undefeated through 10 league games this season and have won five out of five at Patriots Point including Wednesday’s Open Cup marathon against South Georgia Tormenta FC. So, why so low here? Simple. Atlanta United FC. The Battery have played them twice in the Open Cup – and even took them to extra time in 2019 when they last met – but lost both times. Get through that game, and the door will be open wide for a repeat of 2008’s magic.

6. Tampa Bay Rowdies

The Rowdies are a conundrum. At their best they look like a serious challenger with an attack that is capable of challenging any defense, even if missing Manuel Arteaga after his red card late in the Round of 32 will hurt. But then there are the defensive letdowns we’ve seen in regular season games and this week’s Open Cup tilt with Birmingham Legion FC. Those are things you can’t afford to have happen against top-flight opposition, even one that in the case of FC Dallas hasn’t exactly caught fire in the attacking half this season. Tampa Bay will have a chance to advance at home, and potentially go further from there, but it’s going to have to be locked in the whole way.

7. Phoenix Rising FC

The defending Championship title holders, Rising is a team that should have a chance at making a run. It’s started playing more consistently of late and has players who can make the sort of difference you need in difficult contests against top-flight opposition. But, again, the next opponent is a major obstacle. Seattle Sounders FC has been incredibly difficult to beat at Starfire Stadium in the Open Cup over the years – even though both Louisville City FC this year and San Diego Loyal SC a season ago gave them a serious run for their money. If there’s some of that road knockout magic still about from last postseason, Phoenix should find a way to bring it along to the Pacific Northwest.

8. FC Tulsa

Let’s first say that we like what Tulsa’s doing on the field right now. Going into Pittsburgh and getting a victory is no mean feat in any circumstances, and Phillip Goodrum can be a gamechanger, as he showed in Memphis 901 FC’s upset of Atlanta United FC last season. This isn’t a no-hoper given how leaky SKC’s defense has been this year. But going to Sporting Kansas City hasn’t gone well for lower-division clubs in the last 10 years. The last non-MLS team to beat SKC at home in the Open Cup was Orlando City SC in 2013. It would be a great story if Tulsa Head Coach Mario Sanchez can get one over on the club that selected him in the 1998 MLS SuperDraft, but it’s going to take a major effort for the visitors.

9. Loudoun United FC

Loudoun United pulled off one of the results of the round – non-MLS upset edition – in defeating Orange County SC on the road. It’s reward? Another trip to California to play a Los Angeles FC side that given its lineup against Las Vegas Lights FC – hello, Denis Bouanga, Eduardo Atesta, Aaron Long, and the rest – has its eyes on winning this thing. Best of luck, if you get eliminated at least you get to stay a couple more days before your league contest with Orange County the following Saturday?

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